Now that Missouri has enough black bears that the Missouri Department of Conservation has decided to allow residents to hunt them, it’s time that all of us become more bear aware and do our part to keep bears that are just “being bears” from becoming “problem bears.”
If you travel much, and especially if you camp, in what has been traditional bear country in the United States—mainly the Mountain West and Appalachians—you already understand what it means to take bear precautions. You may not actually have done it, but at least you are aware of bear-safe trash cans and the need to store your food safely in bear territory.
In the Mountain West, being safe in bear country is serious business, especially when you are in grizzly bear territory. Campers are required to use food storage containers that are provided in most government-run campgrounds and safely store their food in containers that are bear-proof or out of reach of bears when venturing into the backcountry. Not doing so can often lead to some terrible consequences.
There have already been more people killed by bears in North America this year than in all of 2020 and it’s not simply because of an increase in people venturing into the outdoors. In nearly every instance these bad bear encounters could have been avoided if people had simply taken recommended precautions.
Two specific instances highlighted the need to use bear safety. The first occurred near Yellowstone in the spring when a man fishing alone on the Madison River was fatally attacked by a grizzly that was guarding a carcass it was eating. The man was a seasoned fishing guide and well versed in traveling into the backcountry, but he made one serious mistake on this particular trip by being alone. Bears rarely attack people in groups, even as small as two or three people, and by being along he had no one to help him after he was attacked, which could have made the difference.
The second case was another that could have probably been avoided entirely because it involved someone who stored food inside their tent. A California woman who was camping in Montana during a trip on the Continental Divide Bike Trail was pulled from her tent by a grizzly and killed. Just a half an hour before the attack, she and two other people were awakened by the bear when it ventured into their campground. After that, they removed the food from their tents and went back to sleep before the bear returned and made its fatal attack.
It’s not just grizzly bears, however, that can be a danger. Earlier this year a man was attacked by a black bear in his own garage in Colorado when he went to close the door for the night. The bear, which had two cubs, had entered the garage in search of food and attacked the man causing serious injuries. Something just like that could easily happen right here if we all aren’t more careful.
We can’t wait until someone is seriously injured or killed by a bear in Missouri before we start taking precautions. We must start taking actions that will keep us from creating problem bears by safely storing our trash and food in campgrounds (and at home), keeping our pet food and even bird seed stored properly and out of the reach of bears, and being prepared for bear encounters when we venture out into state parks and national forests.
Bears aren’t generally looking to attack us and will avoid people when possible. Bears that become accustomed to people, however, can become serious problems and food is the number one cause of those problems.
Become more bear aware, not only for your sake, but for the sake of our bears.
For more information, visit https://mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/wildlife-facts/be-bear-aware.